THE United Nations will have to determine before long what controls are to be imposed upon German aeronautical activities under the terms of peace. The problems involved will not be wholly unfamiliar. The twenty years between the two world wars brought us a great deal of experience about how to handle such problems, and how not to. The record of the past must be applied to the future with some reservations, however, in view of the enormous changes in aeronautical science and in the art of aircraft operation which have taken place since 1918.

There are two groups for whom the determination of the future status of German aeronautics will present no difficulty. They are the extremists who favor all-out repressive action and the extremists who favor no action at all.

For those who would treat defeated Germany as Carthage was finally treated, or who foresee the enforced destruction of German industry and the reversion of Germany to an agricultural society, it must be axiomatic that no aircraft shall be built, acquired, controlled or flown by a German.

Almost equally free from doubt should be the opposite sort of extremists, those who look forward to a postwar world in which political and economic relations remain virtually unchanged but in which the United States, and perhaps other United Nations as well, maintain a permanent and overwhelming military establishment. They would maintain peace by keeping in the hands of one or more of the victorious nations such preponderant strength that not even the most tremendous efforts of a prospective aggressor could hope to match it, rather than by imposing upon potential aggressors such restrictions and controls that a comparatively modest policing force will suffice to maintain order. They assume that a German aeronautical industry will exist, even though a German military air force is temporarily excluded. They look to a renewed struggle between the aircraft manufacturers of Germany and those of the various United Nations for export markets in military aircraft; and they expect to see Lufthansa again a competitor on the great air routes of the world.

Both these views exist, but I believe that neither has any great number of adherents at the moment. Between the two extremes lies a range of more moderate courses of action. These all are based on the general assumption that we should keep the defeated enemy states militarily impotent during a very protracted period following their defeat, but that at the same time we should allow a healthy development of their economy and the maximum freedom for their individual citizens outside the range of proscribed activities. Such a policy conforms to the important objective of securing general acquiescence in the peace terms. It also paves the way for a non-military Germany gradually to demonstrate her good faith and peaceful intentions so that in due course she may safely be allowed to take a normal place in the international community.

For those whose postwar goal is to make Germany militarily impotent, while at the same time establishing economic and political conditions designed to make the military impotence a matter of the least possible concern to the great majority of the German people, the aeronautical terms of the peace will present a problem in balance. The airplane is the most important single instrument of present-day war. In the future, no Power can be expected to launch an attack on another unless it possesses an air force at least of the same order of strength as that of its prospective victim. At the same time, the airplane is an instrument of commerce of growing importance. Restrictions upon its use in that capacity will handicap the normal development of a nation's peacetime economy. The problem we face in dealing with German aviation after the war is to guarantee that Germany shall not be able to make an aerial attack on a neighbor, so that her neighbors shall have no reasonable occasion for fearing such an attack, while at the same time to avoid restrictions on her use of civil aircraft so drastic as to make great numbers of Germans feel that they are unreasonably handicapped in the ordinary conduct of their commercial and personal affairs.

Whatever form the restrictions take -- even if German aviation is prohibited entirely -- we must reckon with the possibility of their being evaded. The suspicion of evasion in the minds of Germany's neighbors would defeat the aim of gradually restoring healthy international relations. Therefore, before we consider in detail the extent to which Germany may reasonably be allowed to participate (if at all) in future aerial activity, we should examine the likelihood of evasion in general terms.


There is a rather common impression that the air force with which Hitler threatened the British in 1938 and which he used in his all-out assault on Europe in 1939 and 1940 was the product of twenty years of furtive scheming and secret production, and that it finally burst upon the intended victims as a total surprise. There is a further impression that German activity in air transport was covertly military in purpose, and that the operations of Lufthansa were employed to lay the foundations of German air power and to assemble its equipment and personnel.

These are important points and deserve careful examination. If it is really true that Germany built an air force in secret, and unveiled it to the view of the world as a completed instrument, there is a presumption that the same thing might happen again in spite of all the precautions that could be taken. And even though no such secret development really occurred, a widespread belief that it did occur and might occur again could be almost as damaging, for it would prevent the adoption of any program envisaging the simultaneous strict and complete disarmament of Germany and her gradual economic and political rehabilitation and eventual reconciliation with her neighbors.

German aeronautical activities in the twenty years between the two wars have been the subject of widely varied interpretations. But it is an error to think Germany had rearmed on any considerable scale before the advent of Hitler, or that there was any important degree of secrecy about the progress which Hitler made once he came to power and seriously turned to rearmament.

In Germany from 1918 onwards there always existed a substantial number of ex-pilots of the German Air Force who bitterly resented the treaty provisions which denied their country any military aviation. The nucleus of an Air Staff existed, and undoubtedly there was planning, both in Nazi party circles and among ex-officers without active political affiliations, against the day when the nation might feel free to rebuild an air force. After the present war, there will again be such a group of men who will not only have lost the war but also the opportunity of practising their own profession. Their ambitions, and the appeal they can make to the imagination of postwar youth, will be difficulties in the way of establishing and maintaining aerial control over Germany; but it need not be an insuperable difficulty.

After the last war, German aircraft manufacturers sought to remain active in the development of aircraft of military types, and since they were forbidden to develop them in Germany they set up branches for the purpose in adjoining countries. Young Germans, like the youth of other lands, succumbed to the fascination of flight and sought opportunities to practise it. They had some organized backing in doing so. The development of air transport was lavishly supported. But between all that and actual progress towards the creation of a military air force there remained a great gap which was never bridged until the Nazis secured effective control.

German aircraft factories and laboratories were open to foreign visitors, as were German air transport bases and glider camps. Neither in German factories, where Junkers built considerable numbers of commercial aircraft and Dornier and others much smaller numbers, nor in the branches established in Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark and Russia, where military machines were constructed for export sale, has there ever been reason to suspect any great amount of secret activity. The operations of Lufthansa were on a considerable scale, by the standards of that time. As in the case of other European air transport companies, it was largely influenced by considerations of politics and national prestige. In many respects the organization was an extravagant one, with lavish personnel, flying equipment and ground facilities; but the extravagance was in the traffic departments and other purely commercial sections, as well as in the technical and training departments, and seemed to represent the organization's preparation to share in an anticipated enormous expansion of world air transportation. At no time prior to 1935 did Lufthansa muster more than 300 aircraft, and a large proportion of those were small and slow.

I do not suggest that a will to evade the treaty limitations was absent. Undoubtedly there were many Germans both in the aircraft industry and among former military pilots who would have been delighted to build a secret air force if they had known any way of doing it; but no such secret could have been kept for any appreciable length of time, or until such a force grew to appreciable dimensions, in a country which was not then subject to totalitarian rule and to which visitors from other lands had reasonably free access.

It is an even greater fallacy to suppose that when the German air force was finally created it took anyone by surprise except those who had been determined to be so taken. Under Nazi rule, indeed, there would have been a better chance of maintaining a certain amount of secret development than under the Weimar Republic; but even the Nazis would have had difficulties in following such a course successfully for any considerable length of time.

The German Government formally proclaimed the reconstitution of the German air force in March 1935. Between 1933 and 1935 there had certainly been a considerable amount of secret activity, mainly in connection with the design of new types of aircraft. But the production during that period was relatively small, and when the new air force was announced and started operations, it had what appeared to be a very limited number of aircraft, by air force standards, and those of very limited military value. Intensive development really started from that point.

Thereafter, far from attempting to conceal the existence and activities of the German aircraft industry, the Germans boasted about it and offered inducements to professionally competent foreign visitors to come and look it over for themselves. At a gathering of aeronautical technicians held in Berlin in 1935, American and British engineers were invited as speakers; and they were regularly invited thereafter to attend subsequent annual meetings of the same sort. Representatives of the foreign aeronautical press were equally welcome. When I was invited to make such a trip in 1935, I was urged to go about freely and see as much of the German industry as possible. A number of American and British engineers made such visits, or traveled independently in accordance with their own plans, to see for themselves what was being done. Colonel Lindbergh's visit has been the best publicized, but he was only one of many to cover the same general ground. Most of the visitors placed a high rating upon the efficiency of the German aviation industry and the quality of its products, and, with the exception of a very small minority who suspected a large element of bluff, they estimated German productive capacity in imposing figures. Some of them gave their reports to the world;[i] others reported their observations and interpretations to their governments. In addition, all the major Powers had both military and air attachés in Berlin, and until very nearly the time of the attack on Poland they had substantial freedom of movement in German factories and aeronautical laboratories, although they did not have so much opportunity to become familiar with the training of pilots and with the tactical exercises of the air force.

The estimates arrived at by such visitors in 1938 commonly placed German productive capacity at about 1,000 aircraft per month. The figure was a fabulous one by the standards of any production of military aircraft that had existed elsewhere (save perhaps in Russia) at any time since 1918. Among the visitors were eminent figures of the British aircraft industry. Their reports went to a government which discredited or disdained them. They also went to Winston Churchill, then in opposition, who found in them the factual content for the philippics with which he belabored the policies of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain.

What happened in 1939 was not that we were taken by surprise with an unknown or hidden weapon, but that our original determination to keep Germany disarmed in the air, like so many other determinations of the twenties, had lapsed. The Nine Rules to which Germany had been made subject in 1919, as the means of preventing the development of military aircraft in civil guise, had disappeared. Even so, an observer had no need of technical formulas in order to discover that a military air force was being built in Germany within a couple of years after the Nazis came into power. The Allies could have stopped the building then, by prompt and drastic action, just as they could have checked the German Army that entered the Rhineland. But by the time Chamberlain flew to Godesberg and Munich in quest of peace the simple remedies that would have served three years earlier were no longer available. The Luftwaffe was by then beyond the reach of simple punitive action.

The same situation will present itself again in connection with any measures of control attempted at the end of the present war. Constant readiness for action, and the clearest possible understanding as to the form of such action and the conditions under which it is to be taken, will be essential to the maintenance of any control. Uncertainty, hesitation and prolonged debate among the governments which undertake to police the restrictions would again give time for the problem to reach such magnitude that no orderly solution would be possible.

Military occupation of Germany by the victors, and systematic inspection of German factories, would of course reduce the chance of secret preparations. We cannot know at present, however, how long such an occupation will continue. I therefore deal here with the development of a policy which would not depend upon that for its effectiveness.


Although the difference between a military airplane and an air transport is substantial, they may have many parts in common, and the technique of manufacturing each and the qualifications of the personnel using each are the same. Thus any aircraft factory is the potential source of lethal instruments.

There will be general agreement that a nation which has once unleashed its air power against its neighbors, thereby occasioning the vast loss and suffering which Germany has caused in this war, must be debarred from any possibility of repeating its crime. The edifice of security which we must seek to build against all possibility of a renewed German assault will have as its cornerstone a complete prohibition against the manufacture in Germany, or elsewhere under German domination, of any aircraft, military or civil, large or small, or of any of the major components of an aircraft. This will be virtually sufficient in itself as a security device. A nation does not win through to victory with the air force equipment which it has on hand at the beginning, even if it is of the most modern military type. If the aircraft is handicapped by being disguised, however thinly, as having a civil function, the possibility that such a hermaphroditic fleet can carry on a campaign of aggression against neighbors possessing even modest armaments is still further removed. If, moreover, the number of such aircraft that Germany could keep on hand were restricted to the number she legitimately needed in civil flying, the hazard would diminish to the vanishing point.

If the manufacture of aircraft is to be prohibited while operation of imported equipment is allowed to continue, then the maintenance shops for the latter might present a risk and would have to be regularly inspected. A well-organized shop capable of keeping a fleet of large aircraft in condition contains much of the equipment of an aircraft factory; but the vital distinctions are readily apparent to technically competent observers. The idea of military airplanes being built regularly in important quantities in airline shops belongs to the realm of imaginative fiction.

A greater source of danger would lie in the German operation of aircraft factories outside, but close to, German territory. Here the form of protection to be devised will need to be political more than technical.

I have already commented on the extent to which Germany established branch aircraft factories in neighboring countries between 1920 and 1930. The direct prohibitions to be imposed on Germany in future ought to be supplemented by the exaction of guarantees from all Germany's neighbors, if not indeed from all the states of Europe, that they will not offer a haven to industrial establishments that could function as part of a German system that would be illicit if established on German soil. The mood of most of Europe at the end of the war will be such that governments and peoples will feel little disposition to welcome the establishment of German arms factories in their midst; but as the years pass, with new and different sources of international irritation appearing and with the remembrance of past sufferings fading, a firm agreement prohibiting such action will be needed. The neutral states will present a special problem. The necessity of inducing them to collaborate must be kept constantly in mind when we are studying the postwar settlement.

All the aircraft industries of the world will face sharp contraction at the end of the war, and many of their workers will have to seek new employment. To force Germany to contract to zero and to throw all her workers in aviation industries out of employment will impose on her a special burden of economic readjustment. But the security of the rest of the world will require it.

How long is the prohibition to last? Some time in the future, say 20 years hence, or 50 or 100, Germany presumably will be restored to a coöperative place in a peaceful European community. So, at least, one must hope. We can scarcely imagine that any special prohibitions on particular industrial activities will endure eternally. This is especially true in the case of the airplane, which will necessarily play so great a commercial rôle in the future. No great industrial nation will be held back from creating its own aircraft manufacturing industry except by compulsion. We do not know the length of time that must elapse before Germany can win her neighbors to confidence in her good intentions. We do not know how quickly an international system of mutual support for policing and security can be developed and can prove its reliability. This seems to make it undesirable to set any fixed term for the prohibitions and limitations to be laid upon German aviation at the end of the war. On the other hand, if we are wholly indefinite the aircraft industries of other countries will acquire a vested interest in supplying the whole world's needs and will oppose the termination of the prohibition on Germany and will stir up public fears about the consequences of abandoning it. The first of these drawbacks seems the graver. On the whole it would appear desirable that the term of the prohibition be left indefinite.

I have already implied my own belief that although Germany should not be allowed to have an air force or to manufacture aircraft, she should be permitted a reasonable amount of air operation for civil purposes. There is sure to be strong sentiment against this, on the theory that Germany's need for air transport, both internal and external, will be met by non-German airlines. If we are to allow the Germans to conduct their own operations with imported aircraft we should do so on the basis that while we propose to make rigorous and unhesitating use of all controls necessary to prevent the restoration of German military power, we are limiting our choice of controls to those which are in fact important for the prevention of aggression.[ii] If that be the general objective of the peace settlement, it is appropriate to allow Germany a limited amount of air transport under such restrictions as will insure that its operation would present no threat to world security.

The previous paragraph assumes that postwar air transport operations in Europe will be conducted as before 1939, by companies possessing a single definite nationality. But there is an alternative possibility -- that air transportation may to some extent be internationalized, especially within Europe. Internationalization had some support, mainly French, during the thirties. At that time, it was advocated largely as a measure of security against the threat inherent in uncontrolled national air transport operations. Accumulated experience and added knowledge of what the preparation of an air force actually entails has abated concern on that account to a considerable degree, and internationalization is likely to be urged at the end of the present war primarily as a matter of administrative convenience and as a means of avoiding wasteful international duplications of service and the heightening of commercial rivalries.

Internationalization would have obvious practical advantages in Europe, where there are more than 20 completely distinct and sovereign states (excluding Scandinavia and Russia) in a total area barely half that of the United States. The practical difficulties of forming and operating international enterprises would of course be great. If they were created, Germany should be allowed to participate, even though initially on a token scale, with the prospect of a gradual increase later. In that event the problem of independent and purely national operation of German air transport of course would not arise.


The problem of aircraft operation under German auspices may be subdivided under the three headings: (a) transport operations; (b) non-transport flight (industrial and private); (c) training of personnel.

There are various guarantees against the use of civil aviation for military purposes. One is the difference between combat and transport aircraft. Another is the enormous difference between the size of even the largest transport fleet and the size of the air forces which major Powers are apt to use in waging war. Even allowing for the growth which air transport is certainly destined to have following this war, a fleet of 5,000 transport aircraft would blanket the earth with airlines. Yet that figure represents no more units than the United States produces in a single month at wartime tempo, and only a few months' production at the rate which Germany was supposed to have attained before the attack on Poland. We certainly have no reason to sanction the blanketing of the earth by German transport undertakings, nor to allow her to do more than furnish her own internal transportation and the appropriate connections along the major trade routes linking her to neighboring countries. Very intensive transport operations limited to that geographical scope could be carried on with not more than 300 airplanes averaging 20-passenger capacity. There would appear to be no reason for allowing Germany more than that number of aircraft for transport purposes, at least for some years after the war, nor replacements except as machines already on hand are actually scrapped.

The quantitative limitation should be rigid; but within those limits there should be no limitation on quality. If the purpose is to allow Germany a free economic development, she should not be handicapped by being compelled to use an inferior grade of transportation. A restriction of that sort would provide a real grievance of a wholly non-military order. Limits as to the aggregate number and aggregate carrying capacity for the German air fleet should be fixed and maintained. Within those limits Germany should be able to purchase the best transports which the aircraft industries of other nations produce.

The second problem is whether or not Germany shall have aircraft for industrial and private operation. In all countries there are corporations and other private organizations, as well as agencies of government, which constantly need air transportation for urgent purposes. The desire for the necessary equipment is legitimate, within limits; and in Germany's case we reasonably could let her secure that equipment, on the assumption that we have decided on the general desirability of permitting her economic progress as a means of developing a peaceful spirit among the German people. However, a hundred transport aircraft averaging 10- or 12-passenger capacity should meet all her reasonable requirements for this type of service.

The private use of aircraft in Germany, if it is to be allowed at all, should be limited both quantitatively and qualitatively. I shall not attempt to describe here the detailed technical means of applying qualitative limitations.[iii] Their effect ought to be to restrict privately-owned aircraft to not more than 4-passenger capacity with engines of not more than about 200 horsepower.

It does not seem to me either necessary or wise, however, to allow the private operation of any type of airplane in Germany after this war. Like every other important belligerent country, Germany will possess many thousands of highly trained military pilots, many of them filled with enthusiasm for aviation and eager to keep up their flying by any means available. But it will be healthier for the rest of the world if German aeronautical careers which have been specifically military in purpose, and which have been founded on military training, be completely interrupted, at any rate during the initial period of postwar settlement. The only exception would be for the very limited number of trained personnel that may properly find employment in the German transport service described above.

To allow Germany any private aircraft in the period immediately after the war would almost surely lead to the formation of flying clubs in which each individual aircraft would be kept in continuous and intensive service in order to give practice for the largest possible number of pilots. A large section of the pilots remaining to the Luftwaffe at the end of hostilities would thereby "keep their hands in" in the manual technique of piloting and would have an additional incentive to keep up their aeronautical studies. The prohibition on the manufacture of airplanes and the restriction on the amount of equipment to be imported would be the primary safeguards against a renewal of the German air threat. But we should supplement them by preventing Germany from maintaining any large force of pilots who have had military training and experience and who keep their aeronautical skills refreshed.

It is hard to say how rapidly or how far private flying will develop after the war in countries subject to no restriction whatever. It is correspondingly difficult to lay down in advance, in absolute terms, an appropriate limitation on the number of Germany's privately-owned aircraft, supposing such aircraft were to be allowed in spite of the considerations just mentioned. The best method might be to adopt a relative standard, conditioned on the rapidity with which private ownership of airplanes developed in other European countries. This would prevent the German authorities from surreptitiously sponsoring the use of nominally private aircraft to expand the practice of the aeronautical art beyond what is done spontaneously and naturally in neighboring countries.

Finally, there is the question of training. There seems to me an overwhelming case for rigidly prohibiting flight training in postwar Germany and for training abroad such German personnel as are required in transport operations. The German airlines should not become a refuge for a group of reactionary former fighting pilots, working together, living over together the great days of their victories, and plotting together for a renewal of German military power. However small such a group might be, it would be a focus of infection for the whole nation. If we allow the Germans to have their own domestic transport services, we should proceed on the theory that it is done in the interests of attaining a true peace. That means the development in Germany, for domestic German needs, of an organization staffed with men whose personal enthusiasm is for Germany's peaceful collaboration, in aviation as in other forms of business, with other nations of the international community. It implies the gradual replacement of the Luftwaffe veterans by new pilots drawn from politically reliable groups and trained and indoctrinated abroad, in only such numbers as the German transport system would really require for routine operations -- say some 300 new pilots a year at the most.

If the proposal that the United Nations should actually undertake to train even a small number of Germans as pilots in the postwar period seems startling, it must be judged as the alternative to the establishment within Germany of flying schools which certainly would be capable of training a very much larger number. The fundamental decision will be on the question of whether any operation of aircraft by Germans should be allowed. If that question is answered in the affirmative, some personnel trained for air transport duties will obviously be required; and it will be better, at least for a number of years after the war, that they be trained outside of Germany rather than inside.

By devices such as those described briefly here, German aeronautics, first a nightmare to the world, and then a menace of horrible reality, can be rendered innocuous after the present war. The controls suggested, provided they are maintained with vigilance and vigor, seem to me to leave no opportunity for German aviation to renew its threat to the peace of the world. Instead, German aviation can gradually be made a positive factor in the development of peaceful coöperation in Europe.

[i]Cf. "New Wings for a New Germany," by Edmund T. Allen, Aviation, December 1935 and January and February 1936; and "Hitler Wasn't Bluffing," by S. Paul Johnston, Saturday Evening Post, February 18, 1939.

[ii] Apart, of course, from appropriate measures for the restoration of wartime plunder, punishment of war criminals, etc.

[iii] For those particularly interested in such matters, however, I might mention my belief that the total piston displacement of the engines installed in an aircraft is the best simple and specific technical criterion of the value of the aircraft from the point of view of its possible conversion to military employment.

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  • EDWARD WARNER, Vice Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board; Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics, 1926-1929; Editor of Aviation, 1929-1935
  • More By Edward P. Warner